Seating in the Courts of Appeals

The D.C. and Fourth Circuits used organized approaches to seating for high-profile arguments

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Last month, I wrote a theepart series about my negative experience waiting on bar line at the Supreme Court. This post will recount my positive experience attending oral arguments at the D.C. and Fourth Circuit Courts fo Appeals.

On Monday, December 9, I attended oral arguments at the D.C. Circuit for Blumenthal v. Trump. Here, members of Congress alleged that President Trump violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause. Oral argument were slated to begin at 9:30. I arrived at the court around 8:15. At that point, a handful of people were waiting in the hallway outside the courtroom. A member of the court staff did an informal count, and told everyone what number he or she had. I was number 4. Around 9:00, we all lined up in number order. There was no confusion. A few minutes afterwards, we were escorted into the courtroom. By my count, there were about 20 reserved seats for the public. The rest of the seats were reserved for the press, guests of counsel, guests of the court, as well as law clerks. (There were far more than a dozen law clerks; I suspect clerks from other chambers also attended). This process was quite organized and efficient.

On Thursday, December 12, I attended oral arguments at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for Maryland and D.C. v. Trump. Here, the state and the district alleged that President Trump violated the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clause. This proceeding was en banc, and there were fifteen judges present. (Judge Shedd, who took senior status in 2018, sat on the panel, but did not sit on the en banc court; I'm not sure why.) The hearing was to begin at 9:00. I arrived shortly after 8:00. The en banc courtroom was already open, and was divided into sections. Sections 1 and 2 were for guests of the parties. Section 3 was for the press. Section 4 was for the law clerks. (This section was, by far, the biggest, as each of the fifteen judges brought 3 or 4 law clerks to Richmond.) I was in Section 5, a section for the public. (I counted about 20 seats in this section). Court staff handed me a ticket that said section 5. This ticket allowed me to leave the courtroom to use the restroom or get a drink of water. Again, the process was extremely simple and straightforward.

Kudos to the D.C. Circuit and the Fourth Circuit. SCOTUS, you can do better.